Monthly Archives: January 2014

Brown Trout Gaining on Esopus Creek Rainbows

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, December 26, 2013

By Morgan Lyle

Rainbow trout were first stocked in Esopus Creek in the Catskills in 1883, and pretty much ever since, the creek has been a rainbow stronghold.

Rainbows are common across New York, and a self-sustaining population of rainbows has flourished in the Delaware River for decades. Still, nowhere in New York has the rainbow dominated a stream so completely as the Esopus — until now.

For reasons that aren’t yet clear, the rainbows of the Esopus are losing ground to wild browns. Stream surveys in recent years by the Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Geological Survey showed wild browns outnumbering rainbows.

“From 2009 to 2013 at our study sites, we see a steady decline in the number of rainbow trout,” said Scott George of Delmar, an ecology and evolutionary biology student at the University at Albany, studying trout habitat on the Esopus with the USGS.

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A U.S. Geological Survey crew counts fish in Stony Clove Creek, a tributary of the Esopus, in July 2013. Morgan Lyle photo.

At four locations on the Esopus and five more on tributaries, the USGS team has counted fish for the past five years. Consider these preliminary findings, on a stream where historian

Austin McK. Francis once reported wild rainbows outnumbered wild browns 10 to 1:

In 2009, the USGS crew found 410 rainbows and 814 browns at the nine survey sites. In 2010, rainbows were back on top, though not by much — 428 ’bows, 331 browns. In 2011, there were 175 rainbows and 120 browns.

In 2012, the electrofishing crew found 147 rainbows, 962 browns. This summer, browns outnumbered rainbows, 441 to 59.

It’s an amazing turnaround — from 10-to-1 rainbows to 10-to-1 browns.

The USGS study is being finalized and will be formally released next year. The DEC, meanwhile, has been counting fish in the creek and in Ashokan Reservoir downstream, and it, too, has found a decline in rainbows.

Electrofishing two sites twice a year for the past four years, “in general, we saw fewer rainbow trout and more brown trout,” said Region 3 fisheries manager Michael Flaherty. “We also finished a three-year period of ‘season-long creel surveys in 2012.’ Over those three years, we saw what appears to be a greater proportion of the catch reported as ‘brown trout.’ This is different than what we saw in the early 1990s, when small rainbow trout were more commonly caught than brown trout.” Gill-netting in Ashokan Reservoir produced fewer rainbows than in the past, he said.

The DEC’s findings are also preliminary, with final results expected in the spring. The trend seems clear, but neither agency is ready to declare that browns have permanently overtaken rainbows on the Esopus.

“This is one little snapshot that says there may be a trend there, but we need to look at it from a lot of angles,” Flaherty said.

There’s nothing mysterious about the dominance of browns the past two seasons. We can thank Tropical Storm Irene for that.

The monster storm in late Aug­ust 2011 left behind vast expanses of clean gravel that brown trout used for spawning a few weeks later. By the time the 2012 class of rainbows hatched out the following spring, the creek was full of young-of-the-year browns that out-competed them for food and habitat and probably ended up eating more than a few of them.

The trend, however, was in place before Irene. Then again, Irene was hardly the first big storm to impact the Esopus in recent times. Going back to 1996, the creek and the region have experienced numerous big storms, and the timing of such events can impact the success of year-classes, as in the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012.

Is climate change causing an increase in big-water events which have eroded the rainbow’s trad­itional dominance? Neither agency is prepared to make that claim, though both said it’s conceivable. The current decline of rainbows and rise of browns may also simply be a blip with no long-term significance.

There’s nothing wrong with catching wild brown trout, of course, but somehow it would be a little sad if the Esopus ceased to be a haven for beautiful, feisty, wild rainbows after 130 years.

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Shorter Tenkara Rods, by Popular Demand

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, December 19, 2013

Morgan Lyle

Fly-Fishing: Tenkara rods don’t have to be long to be effective

When it comes to nymphing, the longer the rod, the better the fishing.

A longer rod makes it easier to hold your line and leader off the water and stay in direct contact with your fly or flies. You can reach over currents, rather than laying your line across them and risking your fly being dragged off course.

High-stick, tight-line nymphing is probably the single most effective way to catch trout in most circumstances. That’s why the European (and now American) competition anglers do it — and they do it using 10- and 11-foot rods.

new tenkara rod 1

Tenkara USA’s Rhodo, one of two adjustable-length models introduced in December. The Rhodo can be fished as short as 8 feet 10 inches.

Rod length has always been one of the keys to the success of tenkara fishing, too — along with the ultra-soft action that makes it possible to cast a line as light as a 15-foot piece of 12-pound fluorocarbon.

But there’s a paradox. Tenkara fishing is rightly billed as ideal for small streams with lots of pocket water, but those same streams are often covered with low canopies of trees and brushy banks, leaving little room to cast a 12-foot rod.

Now, the best-known seller of tenkara rods outside Japan, Tenkara USA, has rolled out two new rod models, each one adjustable to three lengths. One, the Rhodo, can fish as short as eight feet, 10 inches and as long as 10 feet, six. The other, the Sato, can be fished at 10 feet, eight inches, 11 feet, 10 inches or 12 feet, nine inches.

It’s part of the evolution of tenkara fishing in the U.S. When Tenkara USA introduced the long, telescoping rods with no reels in April 2009, the orthodox view was that all tenkara rods were long — 11 feet was considered a shorty.

But it turns out there are all kinds of telescoping “pole fishing” rods in Japan, including some that are eight feet long or even shorter. They’re technically not tenkara rods, but can be used the same way and are great fun for small wild trout on headwaters streams.

Out west, the tenkara anglers have it easy — many of their streams are wide open, with no trees or brush to interfere with casting or playing fish. Back east, where the mountains are forested all the way to their summits and the wetter climate makes for lusher streamside flora, a shorter rod comes in handy.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Daiwa Soyokaze nine-footer from Tenkarabum before the company discontinued the model. It makes it possible to fish in tight spots, and it handles average and even bigger trout surprisingly well.

This 1.6-ounce rod still has the central tenkara characteristics: a tip so flexible it can be loaded by nothing more than a leader and a fly, and an overall action so soft it can protect very fine tippets, even when playing nice trout.

Then again, I’ve never had all that much trouble with my 12-footer in small, backwoods streams. In fact, the challenge of casting in a tunnel of snaggy vegetation is part of the game. These are very often the spots where good trout are found, precisely because the surroundings offer protection from herons, kingfishers, fly-fishers, etc.

Still, it’s a positive development that five years on, the orthodoxy is less rigid and fixed-line fishing is evolving in response to American anglers’ requirements.

The new Tenkara USA rods have gotten glowing reviews from bloggers, such as Jason Klass at TenkaraTalk.com, who were provided them in advance of their release for field testing. They sell for $215, and complete information can be found at tenkarausa.com.

They’re not Tenkara USA’s first adjustable-length rods, by the way. The company’s Ito, which fishes at 13 feet or 14 feet, seven inches, has been available for some time.

Nor are Tenkara USA’s new models the first three-position rods available in the U.S. Tenkarabum.com has offered the Japanese-made Suntech Field Master, a very similar rod except it has non-skid finish on the blank rather than a cork grip, for about a year now, at a roughly comparable price.

All of these rods are excellent trout fishing tools and very much worthy of your attention, if you’re at all interested in fixed-line fly-fishing.